The UAE is, of course, an enviably safe country with low crime rates and a government for whom the happiness and wellbeing of residents lies at the forefront of its policies and initiatives. And yet, with a huge proportion of children and young people carrying a small supercomputer (yes, we’re talking about their phones) around with them 24/7, these global topics and their causes can still be accessible to them.
Before we tackle the topic further, we hope that you note this important point. If there was one message we received loud and clear from the educators we spoke to, it was this…whether your child is 17 weeks or 17 years old, your own engagement with their offline and online life, your partnership with their schools and your education around the ‘hot topics’ of their generation are all absolutely imperative to keeping your teenager safe.
We urge every parent be aware, be informed and to read and share this article!
Dubai College (DC) is a stalwart of the UAE’s education sector and one of the most renown British curriculum schools in the region. We spoke to Principal Mike Lambert (ML) and Deborah Jones (DJ), the school’s Deputy Head and Pastoral Lead to understand DC’s ever evolving safeguarding efforts.
There’s been two very significant drivers for change around safeguarding over the past two years. First, we have the impact of the pandemic. Like all schools, we pivoted to being entirely online when the schools were forced to close. Even now, more than a year later, we still have blended learning and around 10-15% of our students working online permanently.
Our students have lessons and channels for conversation online, but just as we wouldn’t allow them the keys to the ‘real’ front gate over the weekend, we’ve learnt to mindful of them accessing the online school unsupervised. I think this is a key point now regarding ‘safeguarding’: If we place technology in the hands of young people, we as adults need to be incredibly vigilant when it comes to keeping them safe. This vigilance must extend to their life at home, too. As a school, we simply cannot hope to administrate and police our student’s safety without the support of their parents.
The second shift for us came about as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement. Last summer a group of our alumni raised awareness of micro-aggressions which were taking place in school. We had already begun to address this issue by surveying and hosting focus groups with students in the Sixth Form, however, the amount of work put in by our alumni certainly accelerated that process. We know students worldwide can be afraid to report these problems and numerous research studies have shown that most young people are afraid to tell parents and school leaders about these issues.
The outcome for us has been a dramatic change in the way we see ourselves. I feel as a school we have become so much better at just listening, and we no longer see adults as the omniscient experts. These days it’s often the other way around!
ML: I think the key thing to say in answer to this is that keeping an ongoing, open dialogue going is crucial. New issues, trends and sub cultures crop up all the time when teenagers are involved. Parents need to be able to have some very challenging and very awkward conversations.
A recent example, that I know is happening in many schools worldwide, is that quite young boys, say 11-13, are trading inappropriate content for online gaming tokens. In fact, exchanging inappropriate content is a big issue around the world and again, I urge all parents to be very involved with and aware of their children’s activities online and in social media. We don’t just have to worry when our children leave the house!
Parents must be aware that teenagers will often engage in risky activities from their bedrooms, and that in many ways, their devices enable them a level of privacy to do so that our generation would not have had. Again, and I cannot stress this enough, please check your child’s devices, regularly.
If parents are not doing that, then our efforts are dead in the water.
DJ: Whether online or attending in school, we are always monitoring the wellbeing of our students. Staff have been trained to recognise when students are not engaging as they would expect. In terms of tracking any concerns, we make use of two electronic platforms, CPOMS (the Child Protection Online Management System) and Tootoot, which is an app where students can anonymously raise their own issues.
Of course, we have proactive safeguarding too. We hold regular positive education days where we put just about everything on the agenda and where we encourage those difficult conversations. Our counselling service is a big eye opener for us and they will pass on any specific concerns to the safeguarding leads.
ML: We now have two “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” working groups at DC. One is for students and one is for parents, governors, staff and DC alumni. For me, these groups are about creating a radical transparency within the school. What they raise, we minute and share with everyone and we engage upon every issue. It’s this transparency that I believe will continue to improve our approach to keeping our students safe.